Tag Archives: Roddy Doyle

VISIONS OF NEW ORLEANS, MADE REAL (Part One): KRIS TOKARSKI, TIM LAUGHLIN, and HAL SMITH at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 31, 2016)

At the 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival, I didn’t see the double rainbows that were so magnificent at the 2014 celebration — but they were musically evident whenever the Kris Tokarski Trio took the stage.

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

The extent of my devotion to this group was evident to anyone who saw me following them around, a happy man, breathing hard because of the altitude and the excitement in equal measure, with video camera and tripod.  They played eight sets; I caught seven.

The Trio is Kris Tokarski, piano; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Hal Smith, drums. It’s a trio that balances deep seriousness and lighter-than-air play.  Its music is tangible but translucent: you hear the whole but admire the individual voices twining together.  Think of Casals, Thibaud, Cortot.  Simeon, James P., and Pops Foster.  Benny, Teddy, and Dave Tough.  Singing lyricism, floating swing.

And they did the thing I prize most, which is to honor the tradition by being themselves.  Heaven knows each of these players knows the clearly-delineated tradition — on records, in performance with other musicians, studying the Masters in person — but they know (to quote Emerson) that imitation is suicide and (to quote Lester) you must go for yourself.

I was telling a friend about a favorite Roddy Doyle novel, THE VAN, about two Irish friends who open a mobile fish-and-chips business, and their proud slogan is “Today’s chips today,” which is what I think of when I hear these performances: nothing warmed up under heat lamps, nothing stale.  Music that’s truly alive in now.

Here is the first half of this Trios’s closing set of the Festival (I am working backwards), recorded in a church with wonderful acoustics.  Kris chose to make this set a New Orleanian one, with gracious hot results.

JAZZ ME BLUES (for the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, then Bix, then the Bobcats and Condon and and and:

SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART (no doubt a Morton tune, and I come from the school that places a comma in the middle; it makes better dramatic sense):

THAT DA DA STRAIN, from Mamie Smith onwards to us in 2016:

BOGALUSA STRUT, a nod to the Sam Morgan ensemble:

What wonderful music.  You can bet there will be more.

May your happiness increase!

WHILE IT’S HOT: TWO CONCERTS, COMING SOON

I revere the jazz Past: the recordings, the actual men and women, their stories, their holy artifacts.

But I would not want this art form to become a museum, where we can only hear the Great Dead People.

So I encourage my friends to seek out occasions where we can live in the present moment: hearing living men and women play and sing their own versions of this lovely music right in front of us. It’s an experience different and deeper than listening to the Electrobeam Gennett you just got on eBay, although I am not making fun of that pleasure, not at all.

Enjoying the present makes me think of fish and chips, which I will explain below.  Trust me, it’s relevant.

The two concerts I am reminding you all about are put on by the Sidney Bechet Society in New York City. Were I there, I would be there. They take place on Monday, at 7:15 (a nice serene early hour) at Symphony Space at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street.

Monday, April 21, is the second “Jam Session of the Millenium,” led by our own Dan Levinson:

SBS.April.Show.Flier.V6 (Neal Siegal)

If you’re one of those Jazz Lovers who wonders, “Who are these kids and are they any good?” you and your skepticism are in luck — because someone (thank you, Anonymous Person) recorded the first Jam Session of the Millennium in its entirety.  Consider this!

Monday, May 19, is a tribute concert in honor of Mat Domber, who made so much good music possible for all of us (along with his wonderful wife Rachel, still with us) on Arbors Records from the late Eighties onwards.  The audience of jazz listeners thanks him as do the musicians — and some of them gather onstage to say it with music: Randy Sandke, Wycliffe Gordon, Anat Cohen, Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Warren Vache, Joel Forbes, Rebecca Kilgore, Ed Metz, Rossano Sportiello, Harry Allen, John Allred, Rajiv Jayaweera, and Bob Wilber!

Tickets are $35 (students $10) ahttp://youtu.be/TfKz2nIok-Qnd the Symphony Space contact information is 212.864.5400 / www.symphonyspace.org.

Fish and chips, Michael?”

Yes.  In one of my favorite Irish novels of the last few decades, THE VAN, by Roddy Doyle, two fellows open a mobile fish and chips “cooker” out of an old van — a very funny and touching novel.  But one of their selling points is a sign that says TODAY’S CHIPS TODAY. Get this music while it’s HOT.

May your happiness increase!

“NOW’S THE TIME” by LARRY STRAUSS

Much of what is marketed as “jazz fiction” is earnest but unsatisfying because of the difficulty in creating believable characters.  In fact, the two most fulfilling jazz novels of the last decade have been Frederick Turner’s 1929 and Roddy Doyle’s OH, PLAY THAT THING! — both of which had larger than-life figures Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong as their centers. 

Many of the more traditional attempts at the genre also relied on predictable characters: the doomed pianist or saxophonist, devoted to his music but unable to have meaningful relationships; the doomed drug addict; the tubercular musician; the musician slowly going insane.  (Women, by the way, are always the devoted mother, the devoted girlfriend, the faithless wife.)  You begin to get the picture.

That’s why NOW’S THE TIME, a novel by Larry Strauss, is such a pleasure.  For one thing, its protagonist, Didi Heron, is an unflappable woman trumpeter (her day gig is in teaching middle-school geography) who doesn’t see herself as anything unusual — thus no novel-as-faminist-polemic here.  Didi isn’t perfect, but she has yearnings and a quest — a quest that forms the backbone of this book.  I should also say that, through Didi, Strauss has given us a candid glimpse into what goes on in a musician’s head — not starry romanticism or bitter cynicism, but an amused, perceptive, often unsentimental view of the world.  Did’s voice is a pleasure, and she quickly becomes real, not a thin disguise for the author’s opinions. 

I won’t give away more than eight bars of the plot, but Didi, scuffling through occasional gigs, has a love life and a lineage.  Her father, a jazz pianist killed very young in an auto accident, was a member of an imaginary but wholly convincing Fifties bop qiuntet.  As Didi searches for a mythical tape recording of the group and has adventures coast-to-coast, meeting a variety of club owners, family members, and aging musicians, she discovers a good deal about herself in ways that trascend formulaic “coming-of-age,” because Didi is clearly an adult, changing from chapter to chapter. 

I’m skeptical of novels advertised as “good reads,” but I read this one eagerly, asking the question so essential to fiction, “What’s going to happen next?”  Strauss doesn’t get in the way of his story: he creates his people, sets them on their particular courses, and records what takes place in sharp, straightforward prose.  I hope that we get to follow Didi in a later book: I was sorry to see her go. 

Here’s a “jazz fiction” novel that is true to both parts of the name.  NOW’S THE TIME is published by Kearney Street Books: details at www.kearneystreetbooks.com.  And it’s also available here: http://www.amazon.com/Nows-Time-Larry-Strauss/dp/0972370676/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1277580826&sr=1-1